Belle Terre allows hunting, plans deer culling with Port Jeff

Belle Terre allows hunting, plans deer culling with Port Jeff

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A family of deer stands, weary of strangers, at the Port Jefferson golf course. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Village of Belle Terre has moved to allow hunting in the village limits, saying the village code that restricted it was illegal in the first place.

Chapter 95 of the Belle Terre village code, specifying hunting and firearms, forbade any person for hunting, trapping or discharging firearms within village limits. In a meeting Jan. 15, the village board voted unanimously to remove it from the code and now it defaults to New York State law and Department of Environmental Conservation regulations regarding to hunting.

Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak said nine months ago the village board announced to the community it had received an opinion letter from the attorney general of the state of New York saying all hunting regulations are held by the state, and there is no room for local laws in contradiction to state laws.

“We’re just doing away with something that can’t be in the village code,” the Belle Terre mayor said. “It’s controlled by state legislature through the DEC. You’re not allowed to have codes that do not conform to state law.”

During the public discussion at the Jan. 15 meeting, many residents spoke out against taking away the code. Some said they felt the decision to remove the part of the village code was announcing to the public Belle Terre was open to hunting, though DEC regulations state hunters must be 150 feet from any structure, and they cannot trespass onto people’s property without permission. 

Natalie Bratt, along with other Belle Terre residents, share their opinions of deer hunters in Belle Terre village. Photo by Kyle Barr

Village resident Robin Marcel said she was concerned rogue hunters or poachers would be shooting arrows in the residential vicinity.

“How many arrows must I find in my backyard?” Marcel said. “There are certainly some good hunters out there, but not everyone is reputable.”

A number of residents reported seeing hunters carrying bows and arrows walking down residential streets. Others said they heard what might have been gunshots going off in the night. Some said they were afraid that deer injured by bows and arrows might leap fences and end up dying in people’s backyards.

DEC regulations specify hunting can only be done during the day, and the use of firearms like rifles or shotguns for deer hunting is prohibited on Long Island.

Sandak said he has only heard a single complaint about a deer dying in a resident’s backyard within the village, but that issue was cleared up quickly. He added the best way to deal with these illicit hunters was to contact either Suffolk County police or the DEC. 

Village Attorney Eileen Powers repeatedly stressed village constables had no authority to arrest people for hunting, especially if the persons were invited onto the property by
the homeowner.

Kelvin Bryant, a member of East Quogue-based hunting advocacy group Hunters for Deer, attended the meeting and said while there were bad actors out there, his group’s members were all professionals who only kill deer from elevated positions, called tree stands, and would only shoot at a deer if it was 15 to 20 yards away max.

“Our guys are trained to take ethical shots,” he said.

Culling in Port Jeff and Belle Terre

In neighboring Port Jefferson village, discharging any kind of firearm, bow or crossbow is strictly prohibited by village code, but that may soon have to change if plans go through to perform a deer culling for both Belle Terre and Port Jeff. Sandak said the hunting would most likely happen at the Port Jefferson Country Club golf course.

Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said she was currently working up an agreement with Belle Terre village over setting up a professional culling of the deer population in the area, though they are still working out the final details between the towns. Garant added there would be public meetings in the future on the subject of a professional deer culling, and the cost would be split between Port Jeff and Belle Terre 50/50.

“They’ll do it properly, and do it for a three-year period,” the Port Jeff mayor said. “Nobody will hear gunshots or see deer running around with arrows stuck in their backs.”

‘Nobody will hear gunshots or see deer running around with arrows stuck in their backs.’

— Margot Garant

The culling would be done through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has a special permit from the DEC to get around a number of normal regulations. The USDA officers would use silenced rifles, bait, and will do the culling only at night. 

Sandak said Brookhaven National Laboratory recently completed a culling along its own property to hamper the tick population. 

“They fired 331 bullets and killed 330 deer — I don’t know where the last bullet went,” Sandak said. “Their tick population was reduced by 50 percent.”

Belle Terre Trustee Jacquelyn Gernaey said she was initially against the idea of a culling due to the cost, which she said could be as high as $1,000 a deer.

Sandak said in the near-mile radius of the village bounds there could be as many as 300 deer. While he does not expect to bring that number down to the appropriate number of deer for the area, only around 20, he does expect a culling could bring it down to approximately 50. Though he added it may be needed every two years to keep the total population down.

Hunting incidents in the two villages

Some hunters in the Belle Terre and Port Jefferson area are taking the deer population problem into their own hands, sometimes using illegal means.

Village Trustee Stan Loucks said he heard gunshots outside his home along Soundview Drive the morning of Jan. 7.

They were only small, short shots of small caliber handgun, which went off around 7:30 in the morning, Loucks said the day after the event. When light broke, he went outside to investigate, and near his backyard, which borders on the territory of the Village of Belle Terre, he found a small pool of deer entrails lying on the ground. The carcass was gone.

“It was a popgun, it was close, and they were quick,” Loucks said. “It was a fresh kill.”

Hunting for deer is limited to bows and arrows on Long Island, according to the DEC.

Loucks called the DEC, and he said they arrived within the hour. The DEC officer came back with a hunting dog, but he could not pick up a scent of the hunters. 

A family of deer stands, weary of strangers, at the Port Jefferson golf course. Photo by Kyle Barr

Garant said other residents within the village have complained of hearing firearms near their homes in the recent past.

While the investigation is still ongoing, Loucks has his own theory of what happened. He said he believes the hunters injured the deer with a bow and arrow and then, after tracking it to near his backyard, finally killed it with a handgun.

Garant said she spoke to the DEC officer assigned to the case who informed her there might be poachers in the area, and she has heard details in the past of hunters who had decapitated deer and left them on the golf course. At the Jan. 7 Port Jeff village board meeting, Garant and village trustees discussed putting up signs near the golf course expressing the penalties for hunting within the village limits. 

Sandak was shocked to hear about Loucks encounter with hunters near his property and said it was completely illegal to use a firearm to hunt deer with a gun instead of the mandated bow and arrow.

Fears of hunters in the Port Jefferson area are not unfounded, especially that of animals injured by arrows stampeding onto resident’s property. 

Spokesperson for the New York DEC Bill Fonda said there have been two other complaints of hunting activities in Port Jeff village this hunting season. One was at a home on Prospect Street filed, Nov. 28, 2018, related to a deer being found on a person’s property with two arrows lodged in it. On Dec. 5, 2018, another homeowner filed a complaint that related they saw a hunter with a bow stalking in the vicinity of Oakwood Road. The DEC has not had any waterfowl hunting complaints in Port Jeff village this season.

Individuals with general questions relating to hunting should contact DEC’s Wildlife Office at 631-444-0310. Those with concerns relating to hunting safety should contact DEC’s Environmental Conservation officers at 631-444-0250.

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